S.M: You have been a human rights advocate for close to a decade now. What are some of the notable achievements made by countries in Southern Africa towards addressing human rights concerns?
T.K: We have seen a lot of improvement – especially towards the enactment of legislation that guarantees citizens’ rights. Most of the countries have incorporated into their domestic legislation international human rights instruments. Countries such as South Africa and Botswana have clear human rights instruments in place. That is a very good starting point. Sadly there are countries such as Malawi that are yet to do this. Zimbabwe is one country whose Constitution guarantees its citizens their fundamental rights – but more needs to be done to ensure that such constitutional provisions are upheld.
S.M: How would you relate this progress to women and children’s rights?
T.K: The enactment of legislation that addresses women and children’s rights brings a lot of benefits – but only if the legislation is implemented.
Children in the region are affected by forced child marriages and this deprives them of their right to education, safe maternal health care and a host of other rights. If there is legislation that is specific and against the practice, the children will be protected.
However, there is need to ensure that policing systems are put in place and upheld to ensure that the legislation becomes effective. Failure to put up mechanisms that support this has adverse effects on human rights compliance.
S.M: What are some of the challenges towards ensuring that women and children’s rights issues are upheld by governments in the region?
T.K: Access to justice. Failure by member countries to ensure the setting up of adequate policing structures to uphold and bring to book those who violate citizens’ human rights is a challenge.
In South Africa, the legislation and resources for ensuring that women do not die due to child birth related complications are there but you find that women are still dying unnecessarily.
In countries such as Malawi, there are culture related issues where girls are married off at a very early age and we are saying unless such communities are educated on the disadvantages of such practices, children’s rights will continue to be violated.
In politics, women should not be token representatives. Proper and genuine participation of women should be promoted and the challenges that prevent them from effectively participating in politics should be addressed at the grassroots level.
S.M: Considering that each and every country in Southern Africa is one way or the other violating its citizens’ rights, is there a possibility of these leaders holding each other accountable?
T.K: We have countries in the region with the potential to do that. Botswana is one. There are other countries with strong constitutions such as South Africa. It is these countries’ responsibility to hold other African leaders accountable.
The challenge that we have in Africa is that we have a club of leaders who are very reluctant to criticize each other and who will hide behind this wall of respecting each other’s sovereignty. The issue of sovereignty should not be used as the basis to violate the rights of citizens.
S.M: Civil Society Organisations in the region are an important part of the equation towards holding governments accountable. Is there a possibility of increased collaboration among CSOs in the promotion of rights issues?
T.K: CSOs are a diverse group but there is space for them to push for certain issues with one voice. One of our primary concerns is the closure of space for CSOs in several countries such as Swaziland, Zambia and in some instances Zimbabwe. What has been lacking on the continent is the lack of co-operation among these organisations. There has not been a coercive coming together of CSOs from the region to challenge this closure of space and demand for its opening up. This could be because of competition for funding. However, there is need for CSOs in the region to champion each other’s causes and speak with one voice as a united front.Post published in: Africa News